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Harpephyllum caffrum

Family: Anacardiaceae (Mango family)

Common names: Wild Plum (E); umGwenya (Z); Wildepruim (A);

Native to: Southern Africa
An medium-sized evergreen tree that produces edible, red fruit.

Harpephyllum caffrum










12m x 11m

Harpephyllum caffrum


A medium to large evergreen tree with a dense roundish crown. The dark grey-brown bark is rough. The dark shiny green leaves are compound with 4-8 pairs of opposite leaflets plus a terminal leaflet. It bears small yellow flowers in branched sprays near the ends of the branches. Sexes are separate on different trees, with only the female trees bearing oblong, fleshy red fruit.

Larval host plant to 7 species of moth and the Common Hairtail butterfly.
The fruit is highly favoured by birds.
Water moderately.
Low maintenance
A wonderful, fast-growing street tree, windbreak or screening plant that can be planted as a shade tree in parking lots.
Bushveld, Forest, Woodland
The fruit is thinly-fleshed and oblong. It emerges green and ripens to red.
Anthene definita (Common Hairtail)
Seldom attacked by pests and disease.
Easily propagated by seed. You’ll need to remove the outer flesh and sow the quite fibrous seed in a tray of seedling mix that is one part river sand to one part compost. The seeds take about a month to germinate in the summer months and grow fairly fast.

46 Responses

  1. Hi Lauren

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum is a host plant to one known butterfly species and seven moth species so it’s likely that these caterpillars are natural and will not harm your tree. Could you possibly send a picture of the caterpillar to [email protected]?


  2. Hi there

    I have three of these trees in my garden. The one tree folage has been eaten by a green worm. When i looked closely at it…there were hundreds of these worms. I contacted my cousin who is in the landscaping business and she said i must leave them as they serve as pruing for the tree. I just want to find out if this is true?

  3. Hi Lykos

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    This is quite an interesting scenario. It would be an incredible but highly unlikely feat that your tree has managed to self-pollinate.

    It is more likely that another specimen has been planted in your area as trees are known to be pollinated by a mate 3 kilometres away.


  4. Hi Kristi

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Plants often react differently in an environment. If there is no visible sign of attack, there could be something underground that’s affecting your tree.

    In cases like this, you’d have to investigate the following:
    – Water-logged soil either from over-watering or poor drainage. If the soil is not free-draining, the tree could eventually die.
    – Contaminated soil from possible chemical spillage (e.g. petrol, herbicides, etc.)
    – Bedrock or rubble close to the root ball which could affect the plant’s growth.

    Depending on the age of your trees, it may be worthwhile to contact an arborist to investigate and possibly save it.


  5. Hi. We have 2 harpephyllum trees next to each other. One is thriving, the other one is alive but has no leaves. There is no borer damage or fungus that I can see. Any suggestions?

  6. I have ONE specimen of this tree planted in my garden in Crete/Greece, more than 20 years old, grown from a seed. As it is dioecious, I wonder how it is possible that this year for the first time I got some fruits. I’m quiet sure that there are no other items of this species in this area.

  7. Hi Kyanyisa

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum naturally grows in forests so when planting this and any plants, it’s best to mimic the natural growing conditions.

    As your soil is sandy, you’d need to add compost to enrich your soil and apply a layer of organic mulch such as dried leaves to the surface. Also try adding an organic fertiliser to give your tree an additional boost.


  8. Hi Glenice.
    I planted this type of tree in a sandy soil. But I am facing some problems the tree leaves turn to brown the dry out and fall. So I want to know what cause brown leaves and how to treat them
    And which fertilizer I must use to maintain the tree

  9. Hi Yule

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum is a host plant to several moth and some butterfly species. This is a totally natural phenomenon and the plant will recover from it so there is no need to take any action in this regard.

    Use an organic fertiliser and lots of compost to enrich your soil. As this is naturally a forest species, it will benefit from a thick layer of organic mulch such as leaf litter twigs, etc.


  10. Hi Glenice, I planted four of these on my smallholding well spaced and have grown from 100mm to around 850mm in nearly a year. We live in Hopefield Western Cape. I notice that the some leaves are being eaten which seems like the Eggar moth. We get them around here. Is there a remedy to control this? Can’t seem to find much info on this. And secondly what fertizer would suffice as we have sandy soil here? Maybe if you have some good literature I would appreciate.


  11. Hi Jim

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    As far as we’re aware, the fruit is not toxic to dogs. The fruit usually falls when ripe and, in most cases, birds get to it on the tree before it drops.


  12. Is there any evidence of the fruit being toxic to dogs? Does it contain cyanide like other plum spp?

  13. Hi Jane

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Your tree could be losing its new growth as a sign of stress – heat, wind or lack of water are the more common issues.

    It may be best to take a cutting of a branch to your local nursery for assistance.


  14. My Wild plum tree of about 3-4m sprouted new leaves & young branches for a few weeks but they are now falling off (October) & the top branches do not have any new growth
    How to tell if the tree has a disease & how to treat please?
    I cannot see any thing on the fallen leaves or the tree

  15. Hi Peter

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum (Wild plum) are susceptible to frost especially in exposed areas so it is likely that yours have been affected.

    Give your trees a little more time and they should recover over summer.


  16. I planted two 50L Wild plum trees last Spring. The trees established themselves very well, but they seem to have taken some strain through the Johannesburg winter (Midrand); we’re now a few weeks into Spring and I’m just a bit concerned that they haven’t yet got any green leaves – all my other indigenous trees do already; I’ve given them a good watering over the past 2 weeks. Does the tree suffer normally through winter?

  17. Hi Antonie

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    I love plants and prefer not to offer advice on the removal of a large indigenous tree without seeing the conditions.

    Perhaps consult with an arborist as your tree seems to nearing maturity and may not cause any issues.


  18. Our wild plum is about 15 years old. It’s topping 4-5m. It is planted 4m from our house, but it’s only a metre from the vibracrete wall and the neighbour’s foundations are probably 3m away. It recently lifted the paving down the side of our house. I extracted a piece of root about 3 m long. I estimate the total length of that root is 7-8 m. It hadn’t turned to the foundation, but I’m concerned that it will cause issues for us or our neighbour. Should we remove the tree?

  19. Hi Karin

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    You can experiment with your germination mix as this will provide additional nutrition to your seedlings before planting out.

    Remember to record your proportions so that you can replicate or make adjustments in future.


  20. When germinating tree seed can you mix a small amount of kraal manure with the sand and compost?

  21. Hi Sharon

    Where a species has separate sexes on individual trees, the male trees do not bear fruit. That is why your tree has never borne fruit.


  22. Hi Glenice,

    I have a male tree as it has never borne fruit and it it 12 years old.
    . What do you think it coukd be?

    Thanks so much

  23. Hi Sharon

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Could the orange substance be bits of fruit that the birds are dropping as they eat? If this is the case, it’s normal for this time of year when the trees are fruiting.


  24. I have a Harpephyllum caffrum and noticed when we park our cars under it they get covered in an orange colored substance? It is hard to get off.
    Its this normal of this tree?

  25. Hi, my wild plum is about 6 years old. Since a few months ago gum is snoozing from the trunk – about 20cn from the ground. It is currently bearing fruit and it does not look different from previous years. Is it a problem or what can I do to treat the problem – i.e. if it is a problem. If you can provide me of a link to read it is also fine. Thanks

  26. Hi Clint

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Most plants will go through transplant shock especially if transplanted under stressful conditions which include:
    – Hot or windy conditions
    – Active growing period (i.e. summer)
    – Water stress
    – The size of the plant. Larger and older plants tend to undergo more stress than younger ones.

    Harpephyllum caffrum are generally strong so your plant should recover. Remember to water it regularly to keep the soil moist.


  27. Does the wild plum transplant well? I have recently transplanted a tree and within a week it is looking very sad. The tip growth is black and the leaves are wilting. Do you know if it will recover?

  28. Hi Louise

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum can have an aggressive root system and should not be planted less than 4m from any structure.

    Note that root systems can vary depending on the growing conditions, so this serves as a guide.


  29. Good day to you, I need information about the roots of the wild plum tree as my neighbor is in the process of
    cutting down his tree, he says the tree has invasive roots and the roots are growing underneath the foundation of his garage. The tree has been growing for over 20 years and I cannot find any information about the root system, please help!!

  30. Hi Piet

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Harpephyllum caffrum will grow at the coast as its natural habitat is along the east coast of South Africa.

    We’ve seen specimens growing well in Gauteng in areas which experience heavy frost. So the tree may work in Bloemfontein. I would advise you to ask your local nursery who will have more experience species suitable for your conditions. If you do go ahead, remember to protect the trunk of your tree for its first 2-3 cold seasons. Another alternative to consider would be a wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana).


  31. I want to plant the wild plum (harpephyllum caffrum in a corner of my stand as a shadow tree at the coast. The corner fence is formed by a concrete fence on one side and a brick fence on the other. Will the roots break the fences?
    Will the tree grow in Bloemfontein where frost is sometimes severe?

  32. Hi Shelton

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    The choice of tree will depend on the space available.

    Harpephyllum caffrum requires at least 6m from any structure to avoid damage.

    Other alternatives to consider are:
    Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender tree)
    Kiggelaria africana (Wild peach)
    Ilex mitis (Cape holly)
    Apodytes dimidiata (White pear)


  33. Hi Jonathan

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    It isn’t normal for Harpephyllum caffrum to experience excessive loss of leaves in summer.

    Your tree could be under some stress like lack of water.

    Look for signs of new growth. New leaves generally grow on the tips of the branches.

    Without knowing the age and location of the tree, I’ll have to advise you to perhaps take a cutting to your local nursery for further advice.


  34. What would you recommend for a large shading tree in a driveway? Want to plant it in the corner of our driveway but don’t want to worry about damage to our walls or paving…

  35. Hi Leigh

    Hmmm… this sounds interesting. Perhaps take a cutting of the growth to your nearest nursery to help with identification.


  36. I think mine is a Japanese plum and this winter an odd sprouting appeared. I figured it was from the changes in weather we had been experiencing. Now that the tree is beginning to bear fruit, this sprouting has really taken off and it is definitely not the same plant. Looks kind of like a jade plant. But whatever it is, it happened on its own. Any ideas what it is? How it happened? Do I need to cut it off ?

  37. Hi Marie

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    The most obvious difference is that the female trees bear fruit and the male trees do not. Until they start producing fruit, there is no noticeable difference.


  38. Hi Vee

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Yes, this tree can survive frost. Ensure that your newly planted tree is protected for the first two winters.


  39. Hi Gail

    Thanks for visiting Plantbook.

    Unfortunately there is nothing that I know of to stop a plant from bearing fruit.

    As a consolation, it only occurs at a certain period of the year.

    In the meantime, enjoy the shade and take a moment to appreciate the birds and the fact that you’re providing for nature!


  40. Is there anything to give the tree to stunt the ability to bare the fruit? The birds are making a mess everywhere and the sticky fruit stains the ground. Love the tree, but the fruit is a nuisance.

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